Monday 29 December 2014

O'Brien rejects calls for him to quit watchdog role

Published 04/07/2014 | 02:30

Simon O’Brien
Simon O’Brien

THE chairman of the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Simon O'Brien, has rejected a call from gardai on him to step down.

The demand for the resignation of Mr O'Brien and the two other commissioners, Kieran FitzGerald and Carmel Foley, was made by the Dublin South Central branch of the rank-and-file Garda Representative Association.

But Mr O'Brien said yesterday that the three-person commission had no intention of resigning and had a very important function to discharge.

As he launched GSOC's annual report, the head of the garda watchdog body said all three were looking forward to the changes that were being planned in the wake of the recent controversies.

Mr O'Brien declined to comment on the report produced by Mr Justice John Cooke, who rejected suggestions that GSOC's headquarters had been bugged, and said it was now time to move on.

He pointed out that GSOC had already issued its response to the findings and was likely to make a further appearance before an Oireachtas committee when the issues could be debated again.

Diverging

Mr O'Brien told a press conference that it was not the right forum to discuss the resignation last weekend of its deputy director of investigations, Ray Leonard.

Asked about the personal submission from Mr Leonard to an Oireachtas committee when he stated that GSOC was not fit for purpose, he pointed out that there were diverging views within the commission on different issues and he was fine with that.

He said that what was being sought by GSOC for the next seven years might be different to what they had for the past seven and they had also submitted that they needed a strengthening of their powers to carry out their duties effectively.

Asked about the new legislation proposed by the Government for an overhaul of GSOC and, in particular, the power to carry out surveillance on gardai and intercept communications when involved in criminal investigations of criminal suspects, Mr O'Brien said his organisation at present did not have the expertise or the legislative permission to intercept communications.

He said an internal investigation to establish the source of a leak to a Sunday newspaper of a report by British security firm Verrimus on the bugging allegations was still continuing and he could not comment further at present.

GSOC's annual report for 2013 showed that the number of complaints it received from the public had dropped slightly from 2,089 in 2012 to 2,027 last year. The complaints resulted in a total of 5,299 allegations of misconduct by gardai.

Inquiries established that in 2,277 cases, further investigation was either not necessary or reasonably practicable while 1,612 were inadmissible and in a further 1,176 cases the Garda Commissioner had identified no breach of disciplinary regulations.

GSOC referred 42 complaints to the DPP and a prosecution was directed in relation to 18 of those. The Garda Commissioner referred 41 incidents to GSOC last year, down from 72 the previous year.

Outside of Dublin, the biggest number of complaints per garda division was in Tipperary (257), while Louth (67) recorded the lowest. In the Dublin region, the southern division (452) recorded the highest while the eastern (144) had the lowest.

Irish Independent

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